One of the most majestic animals to hunt throughout the world is the Mule Deer. Not only is it a fine specimen of the deer family, but also lives among some of the most beautiful and rugged habitat in North America. There are many methods to hunting and harvesting, but spot and stalk mule deer hunting is likely the most used, or at least some form of it. Of course spot and stalk mule deer hunting consists of much more than just finding a buck, getting in range and pulling the trigger. Here we will look a little more in depth of what’s required.
At the very least, in addition to the appropriate clothing, you will need a weapon. A firearm or archery equipment is the most popular and work well for mule deer hunting, assuming you can hit your mark. The second most important item for success are optics. Binoculars should be the top priority with spotting scope/tripod not far behind. The binoculars are used to spot the deer and the spotting scope to determine the size/gender of the deer as well as to pick out hiding deer in hard to find areas where extra magnification is needed.
Finding Mule Deer – the “Spot”
We are going to assume the place to hunt mule deer has been established and deer are in the area. The best way to consistently find mule deer is to establish where they will be feeding, bedding, and watering. All mule deer habitat will have all three of these areas and they need all to survive. These areas, and the land in between, is where you’ll find mule deer.
Once you determine an area where mule deer can survive, you must find them. For spot and stalk mule deer hunting the best way to begin is find a vantage point and begin looking over the area, first with your eyes, followed by the binoculars and then the spotting scope. Basically starting with the widest view and narrowing it down as the need for higher magnification increases.
Spotting mule deer is learned skill. A deer on an open hill side can be easy to find, but not all will be this easy. A hunter needs to develop an “eye” for spotting deer in their habitat by not only looking where they should be, but also being able to pick out bits and pieces of a deer from long distances. Antlers sticking above brush or the rump of a deer behind a bush are the types of “spots” that can be mean the difference between filling a tag or not.
Once an acceptable mule deer has been spotted, it is time to determine a plan. This plan need to take in to account sight, sound and scent. These are the three senses to avoid in order to get close enough for an ethical shot. The plan should include a final destination where the hunter will take his shot. Of course this is a tentative plan and is likely to change with the conditions and the actions of the target. Still, make a plan and adjust as needed during the stalk.
One of the most important aspects to the plan is determining landmarks to keep the hunter moving in the right direction. Places look much different once you get to them compared to how it looks from long distances. A rock, tree, bush, anything can be used as a landmark. To remember exactly what the area looks like, it can be very helpful to take a picture or video prior to making the stalk.
Moving In Close – The “Stalk”
Once the deer is found and a plan’s in place, it’s time to close the distance. This should be done with upmost patients in order to not only avoid alerting the target, but also to not spook other animals that could potentially alert the target of your presence; this can be almost as harmful as exposing yourself. Silence and staying out of sight are important, but nothing will blow a stalk more than scent. Sight and sound can alert a deer, but typically they will not blow out of the country or change their habits too drastically. Scent on the other hand will send a deer the other direction, and if it’s a smart, mature buck, you may never see him again. Nothing ruins a stalk/hunt faster and more drastically than scent. For this reason, all caution needs to be taken to not get smelled by your quarry. If the wind direction will not allow you to get to your determined shooting position, then be patient and wait for conditions to change or for target to make a move. A skilled mule deer hunter needs to be patient enough to pass opportunities for days waiting for the conditions to be perfect for a stalk.
As a hunter approaches the shooting position, it’s now when sound and scent will be of the upmost importance. Every stalk is unique, but the main objective is to find the deer before he senses the hunter. A controlled shot where the hunter is permitted take time to execute will surely be the most effective. If the deer is alert and a shot is hurried, that is when things can go wrong.
Just because the hunter gets to the shooting position, doesn’t mean he will be ready to shoot. Sometimes the shot can happen right away, but many times it will require the deer to stand up or move out of his bedding cover. This can take a few seconds or several hours. The main thing is to be patient, but if time is of the essence, it may be necessary to entice the buck to stand up or move out of cover. In this case, a grunt sound or even a whistle might do the trick if a firearm is being used. A popular method for archery hunters is to throw a rock in the direction the deer’s attention is to be directed. In most cases though, allowing the deer to stand or move on his own will be the most secure and result in the best shot opportunity.
Getting a good shot on the mule deer is something that should be practiced well before the hunt occurs. The hunter should surely practice shooting in many different positions, weather conditions, and levels of exhaustion.